By lex, on November 14th, 2011
Few things are as uninteresting to the non-golfer – or to the avid golfer, for that matter – than the details of someone else’s day on the links. I will spare you, therefore, the story of my thunderous drives, precision wedges and deft putting strokes, the ones that took me to the relatively pedestrian score of 84 (with two penalty strokes on 17 for an out-of-b0unds tee shot that veered wildly left and I’m practically certain that a flaw in the wind took it).
Not even going to mention it.
But, I had good company: Chuck did three tours flying F-8 Crusaders aboard 27-C carriers before transitioning to Phantoms and participating in the OPEVAL of the FA-18A (not operationally suitable, not operationally effective). Roger flew Phantoms as well, with multiple trips to both Yankee and Dixie stations, and serving as a Landing Signal Officer for multiple cruises. Ben was an F-4 Radar Intercept Officer of some renown, back in the day. Two trips as an instructor RIO through the replacement squadron – he knew Willie Driscoll, Duke Cunningham’s RO as a student – and flew out to the boat to get the nose-gunners qualified in the Phantom back in the day.
Men of a certain age, in other words.
And gentlemen of the better sort, which is to say, them who are so kind to let a mere whippersnapper of some five decades join their usual Monday group, and pretend not to resent it when he drives the ball 75-100 yards past them. While nursing their adult beverage and cursing at their chipping skills.
The Crusader was a lot more fun to fly than the Phantom, Chuck told me. Except for behind the boat, at night. Where it was summat of a handful.
I sat in an F-8 cockpit trainer at the air museum in Pensacola back before the whole thing took off. And even as a nobbut ensign, I found myself a little thoughtful as I looked at the radio control box on the aft right horizontal console. So far aft that the box was turned with the lettering forwards, since you’d be looking over your shoulder to channelize it. Upside down, like. In the goo, or at night. Or both.
We lost a lot of guys, Chuck admitted. Checking in with approach at ten miles, told by the Marshal Controller to switch Final A or B and then not checking in again. You figured out how to do it without looking or you didn’t. And if you didn’t, well. It was good knowing you.
It was five dollars to get into their game, and at the end of the day I ended up being offered $16 to take home. We shook hands on the 18th green, and I thanked them for letting me play along, told them that their generation had been as heroes to us, and that we’d never gotten around to telling them so. They shook it off.
But those guys flew the old fashioned kit off the wee-tiny carriers, and they did it in combat day after day, month after month, against an enemy that would gladly kill them if they could, or torture them – not water boarding, mind, but the real thing – if they survived to be captured after a shootdown. They did it with a country divided behind them, and a culture that was already leaving their old fashioned values and warrior ethos behind. With rules of engagement that cuffed them hand and foot, seemingly designed deliberately to give the enemy a “fair fight”. Too many of their friends paid the price for that.
And now they’re in their late 60s and early 70s and walk the golf course, talking about guys they used to know. And it was a privilege to walk that course alongside them.
And, yeah: I took the money. Didn’t want to dishonor them by refusing it.